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Ramadan in lockdown is encouraging muslims to talk and share experiences, says faith leaders in Dartford and Medway

Dentists, building surveyors and faith leaders have been sharing their experiences as they grapple with online prayers and fasting during Ramadan in lockdown.

As places of worship remain closed and restrictions on large gatherings remain place, Kent's Muslim population prepares to celebrate Eid from home this weekend.

Muslims prepare for Eid celebrations behind locked doors this year

This year, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan started on the evening of Thursday April 23 and will end on Saturday.

The month of fasting offers Muslims a moment for personal reflection as well as an opportunity to see how they can help out others in their communities.

It follows the efforts of a 100-year-old muslim man who has been walking for Covid-19 relief while fasting for Ramadan and has raised more than £150,000 as he nears the end of his challenge.

Faith leaders are encouraging members to have Eid prayer at home this year with their families but to be mindful of others who may need help.

Mizanor Rahman is a volunteer with the North West Kent Muslim Association and attends mosque in Crayford High Street, near Dartford.

Mizanor Rahman with his youngest daughter
Mizanor Rahman with his youngest daughter

The 43-year-old moved to Dartford from London a few years ago and says prayer has been crucial to making friends in what was a new area at the time.

"I have to say there hasn't been any struggle during Ramadan for me," he said. "The only issue is we are not seeing our friends and families."

This has been particularly noticeable he says during Iftar, the evening meal after sunset with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast.

He says it has been quite a change not spending it with others but is taking the positives of being able to share it more closely with his family taking part in fun games like mini golf in the garden.

Mizanor has been sticking to his usual fasting routine over the last month which consists of scheduling in meals after sunset and waking up at 2pm to stock up on food before the sun rises again.

But he says lockdown has actually helped him in some ways as it has meant his usually busy schedule has been less demanding on his mind and body.

An ifter meal which muslim families eat after sunset
An ifter meal which muslim families eat after sunset

Mizanor works as a building surveyor which requires him to visit various sites but restrictions on movement has meant he has been housebound until now.

"Since lockdown I have only been to one site visit," he said. "The positive of working from home is I don't have that travelling and I have more time to catch up on sleep."

He says one of the biggest differences from usual Ramadan has been prayers, adding he missed the community aspect of this which he said could not be emulated online.

"We stand shoulder to shoulder, toe to toe, you can't do that online or even with a two metre gap," he added.

Moin Uddin, also from Dartford, helps coordinate a 24 hour helpline for members of the mosque in Crayford and says he has been inundated with calls since lockdown.

"It hasn't been easy and has been stressful" he said. "The mosque is closed so we are helping out people over the phone."

Ramadan is usually followed by big feasts and gatherings
Ramadan is usually followed by big feasts and gatherings

"I set up the helpline two weeks before Dartford and Bexley Council did anything – I was getting diverted calls from people at 3am in the morning."

He says he is now working with both councils who have been helping him and food banks to reach vulnerable residents both in and outside the Islamic community.

But he adds the forced lockdown has meant many people have been asking for basic advice on how to access and conduct prayer.

The forced lockdown has also meant many of the festivities people rely on such as the mosque's evening Iftar meal for up to 70 people has also been stopped.

"A lot of people are having a mental breakdown and are phoning for advice and we are not qualified. We have to do what we can."

He added they had been trying to put them in touch with major organisations but their phone lines were either off the hook or engaged.

Safeer Khan conducting an online prayer
Safeer Khan conducting an online prayer

Despite this he says the testing times have brought the community closer together.

This view was also shared by Safeer Khan, Imam of Nasir mosque in Richmond Road, Gillingham

The prayer leader says it has been very difficult because Ramadan is all about praying together but said it was "something we knew we had to deal with".

"For me, to cope with the hunger and the thirst it has been hard," he said.

But then he remembered there are people who are suffering with hunger and thirst every day, adding "a big part of Ramadan is charity."

He said: "Every Ramadan is a month of fasting, and teaches us we have to be patient, sacrifice our comfort for other people, and try to look after those in society who are not that fortunate.

Feeding the doctors at Medway Maritime Hospital
Feeding the doctors at Medway Maritime Hospital

Mr Khan has been encouraging members to assist others and has been delivering meals to staff fasting at Medway Maritime Hospital.

Another NHS worker who has been helping others is Dr Zahid Khan, who works at Wigmore Dental Practice in Gillingham.

At the end of February, the 64-year-old travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos to offer his services to the thousands of refugees who find themselves there after being displaced from their homes around the world including Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since lockdown the dentist has been unable to work, instead offering advice and checking up on his patients over the phone.

"My time away from the surgery has been tough, I am missing seeing my colleagues as well as my patients"

He has been praying with others online and making use of the free time to brush up on the teachings of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, as well as dental webinars.

Dr Zahid Khan and a smiling patient
Dr Zahid Khan and a smiling patient

"Our daily worship, the five daily prayers are offered as before, the only difference is at home and not at the mosque," he said.

"Two people together can be a congregation, so my wife and I have been able to fulfil this and we have prayed together with me acting as the Imam.

But he says Facetime and Zoom quizzes are of little comfort in the long term and misses seeing his children and grandchildren most of all.

Faith leaders are following government guidelines and encouraging muslims to have Eid prayer at home with their families this year.

Imam Safeer Khan urged members in Gillingham to celebrate Eid safely at home adding: "do not despair, remember the main thing of Eid is to share happiness and be greatful to god".

"Share the happiness not only with your muslim brothers and sisters but also your neighbours."

Read more: All the latest news from Dartford

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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